Donald Trump is right to be mocking the Ted Cruz-John Kasich deal to cooperate against his candidacy.
The agreement between the Cruz and Kasich campaigns is that Kasich won’t spend time or money in Indiana, while Cruz will back off in New Mexico and Oregon. The idea is to consolidate anti-Trump support behind one candidate in each state in an effort to beat him.
But the deal is doomed, because it apparently doesn’t include the most important part of a strategic voting pact: Actually telling your voters to vote strategically.
Kasich just announced that he wants the people of Indiana to vote for him. Typical politician – can’t make a deal work.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2016
The best case study for strategic voting this year was in Ohio, where Marco Rubio openly told his supporters to vote for Kasich, not him. This pushed Rubio down to just 3% of the Ohio primary vote. But there are four reasons to think the Ohio story won’t repeat — and Kasich voters in Indiana will not actually shift en masse to Cruz.
1) Unlike Rubio, Kasich won’t actually tell his supporters to vote strategically. I can’t understate the importance of this. Kasich can’t even bring himself to tell his Indiana supporters to vote for Cruz. You can’t have a strategic voting pact without telling your voters to vote strategically!
“I’ve never told them not to vote for me,” Kasich said Monday, when asked what his supporters in Indiana should do. “They ought to vote for me. But I’m not over there campaigning and spending resources.”
2) If you were a Rubio supporter in Ohio, the thought of voting for Kasich probably didn’t make you want to puke. But a lot of Kasich supporters are nauseous at the thought of Cruz. Kasich’s supporters know he is far behind and stands little chance to win the nomination, and they’re voting for him anyway. Why? Because they can’t bear to vote for Trump or Cruz.
In comparison, Rubio and Kasich appealed to demographically and ideologically similar voters. Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, is very popular with Ohio Republicans, especially the establishment type of Republicans who might have backed Rubio.
Strategic voting is much harder to pull of if lots of your voters strongly dislike the guy they’d have to vote for strategically.
3) Rubio’s support had already collapsed. Kasich’s is building. Maybe Rubio’s 3% haul in Ohio didn’t actually reflect that impressive a shift in his voters to Kasich. On the same day, he took just 6% of the vote in Missouri and 8% in North Carolina, despite not having surrendered there.
If Rubio’s supporters were abandoning him organically, driven away by the stench of the death of his campaign, that isn’t likely to similarly happen with Kasich’s voters. After all, Kasich has been improving in national polls.
4) Shifts of campaign resources aren’t that important. Without an explicit call from the candidate to vote strategically, what does the “deal” mean to voters? Well, in Indiana, it means they will see fewer Kasich television ads, no local Kasich campaign rallies, and less spending from Kasich on get-out-the-vote efforts. But those sorts of traditional campaign elements have been less important than usual in this campaign, which has been mostly conducted in the national media — and the message from Kasich in the national media is that Kasich fans should vote for Kasich.
So that’s why the pact doesn’t work, and why Trump is still likely to win Indiana. (He leads there by about 6 points, recent polls have showed.)